Ever since Jim Comey was appointed to head up the FBI in 2012, I have been impressed by his openness and candor. Last February he made some helpful remarks about law enforcement and race. I was in the audience last Sunday when he had the opportunity to address a great number of educated police leaders: members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). What he said wasn’t helpful.
While talking about the need for better and more immediate data on the nature and extent of officer-involved shootings, he shifted into a narrative about being worried about whether police officers were reticent in performing their duties because being scrutinized and having citizen’s video record their behavior — the so-called “Ferguson Effect.” Come on! You are talking to the primary leaders of our nation’s police; a room full of hundreds of educated police chiefs.
Good cops are worried about cameras? A former Baltimore cop, put it succinctly, “If police aren’t walking their beats in tough neighborhoods, they themselves are to blame for fraying relations with community members. If you’re a cop, you’re an asshole if you don’t act like you’re on camera all the time. You’re on a public street doing a public job, that’s it.”
Leaders show the way forward and the Director of the FBI, as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, is in the positon to do just that. Rather than insulting police, Comey should have said something like this.
“Brothers and sisters, I want to thank you for inviting me here today. We are at a crossroads in American policing. We have had a lot of challenges in the past and have learned and grown because of them.
“But today is different: it is a crisis in confidence among a great number of our citizens of color. Nevertheless, it is a crisis in which we have an unprecedented opportunity to show the world how everyone living in a constitutional democracy such as ours can be fairly and effectively policed.
“There are some things we must do. You and I know what they are:
- “We need to get closer to those whom we serve; begin to do real community-oriented, ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ policing; partnering with those whom we serve — and we must do it with an attitude of respect that is unconditional.
- “Along with this, we must re-think how we are using deadly force. This means we must review our policies, training and attitudes about how and when we use of force in the course of our duties.
- “We are the keepers, the guardians, of our nation’s values which include protecting the “inalienable rights” our Founders proclaimed; the protection of life and assurance of liberty for all of us. An important part of this effort is how we will operationalize those values in our daily work.
- “We also need more diversity in our ranks and, at the same time, recruit men and women with broad backgrounds and educations. Each of you are college graduates, that is one of the requirements of joining the Police Executive Research Forum. The same requirement should be expected of those whom you hire and lead.
- “We all know that the job of a police officer is simply too complex today, and what comes with it is a high expectation from those we serve for fairness, respect, and personal control in carrying out our duties. We should never accept less than this.
- “To help guide us as we go forward we should always bear in mind, and keep before us the foundational document on policing a democracy, the “Nine Principles of Policing” written by Robert Peel and others over 180 years ago. I will highlight the second and sixth principles which are to recognize that the power we have to fulfill our duties is dependent on our public approval and our ability to secure and maintain public respect while using the ‘minimum degree of physical force.’
“As the Director of the FBI, I personally pledge to support and work closely with you, to help restore trust in our system of justice. I will expect nothing less from the men and women I am privileged to lead. Policing America is a high-calling and I want you to know that I join you in this calling, as we pursue excellence in police services.”
Also some important research from the American Psychological Association (APA) as to whether the negative publicity surrounding events like Ferguson might have had a negative effect on police willingness to engage in community partnerships.